It appears that this is a month for bands from the UK, which is good because I’ll always have a soft spot for UK Metal owing to Iron Maiden, Venom, Judas Priest, Saxon, &c. Of late, the music from the Isles seems to have brought in either Black Metal (Nine Covens) and Thrash (Sylosis). Of course, you have the great art/prog rock titans from that country that founded styles ranging from Arena Rock (Queen) to Psychedelic (Pink Floyd, King Crimson), and so on and so forth. Therefore, I tend to find U.K. bands that I truly enjoy for a long period of time.
I first became aware of Fen when I was starting to enjoy the darkgaze style of Progressive Black. I bought and instantly devoured their 2011 LP, Epoch, which was very firmly grounded into a pure, head-on black metal approach (much like their peers in Nine Covens) while remaining just artistic enough to keep my attention. I felt that album was well performed, and it remains one to which I still listen.
Until “Consequence” punched me in the throat and forced me along for the ride that is this album. Dustwalker’s production is better than Epoch’s, and the instrumentation is allowed room to breath and interplay without ever sounding overwrought. Whereas at times Epoch felt sprawling and aimless, Dustwalker never seems this way and they go places through this album’s sound that I was not nearly expecting.
As is with the darkgaze style, the seed of this music is firmly rooted in Black Metal: tremolo picking, blast beating, cold hearted and misanthropic darkness. On Dustwalker, Fen pushes past this formula, using the harshness and hardness of that sound to grab your attention quickly and effectively. As the album and music grows, they take you through spacey, psychedelic rock passages that reminded me of a Black Metal Pink Floyd and later Beatles releases (see Spectre, Wolf Sun, and the Black Sound).
They are a similar style to Alcest, this is a common comparison to which I kept returning; however, after completing the album again, that is not a fair analogue here. They are most similar in sound and quality to Agalloch with better production values. The music’s tone is mean to be dark, grim, and nihilistic and it evokes this clearly; however, it never becomes oppressively dark and forbidding. This is something they achieve by transcending past the Black Metal label by integrating wonderful percussion aspects (see The Black Sound for some really good drum sections), a mixture of the typical Black Metal vocals with dissonant yelling and quiet cleans, and not overly relying off the tremolo to service the need for cold. Dustwalker is Fen’s best album by far, and places them firmly into progressive music.